TAL AFAR, Iraq — The man enters the room while the guests are still settling in. In one hand, he carries a Middle Eastern-style coffee pot. In the other, he holds a pair of coffee cups made without handles.

The man offers spicy Turkish coffee to Mayor Najim Abdullah Al Jabouri and about a half dozen Americans who are visiting the home on Tuesday. He pours a few sips for anyone who accepts and then solemnly offers the cup to the next person he comes to.

It’s a token, a symbol of a sheik, for sheiks are traditionally the only ones who serve coffee in Iraq.

And this home belonged to a sheik.


It’s not a funeral, nor is it exactly a wake. Rather, it’s a chance for friends and family to sit around talking about a man they cared about. A relative in a white dishdasha is pleased to see the mayor and his American friends. "Thank you for coming. God bless you all. I appreciate that I’ve been honored by a coalition visit today," he says."

Sheik Mohammad Khalil Hamash was one of two Tal Afar sheiks killed Monday in Mosul. The men had been working with coalition forces, and it’s assumed that’s why they were killed.

Still, two rows of friends and family line the courtyard to welcome the coalition visitors into the sheik’s home. Old men shuffle aside to make room on plastic patio chairs as the group enters a cool, dim room. A boy carrying a waiter’s tray full of cigarettes offers the visitors a smoke. Once the coffee is served, a man makes sure everyone gets tea.

Maj. John Oliver, the Thunder Squadron operations officer, relays through his interpreter that they "would not fail to honor such a man as his brother."

Friendly as the pleasantries are, the nerves are raw beneath the surface. The young men are already talking about revenge, one man says. Someone messed up. Someone is responsible.

"What is the government in Mosul doing?" asks Sheik Qasim Muhammad Ameen Farahat, a Sunni leader and friend of Hamash’s.

With that, Farahat launches into a verbal attack against leaders who, in his mind, allowed violence in their city to spill over into his own. Governments are supposed to protect their people, he says.

"They don’t have control of Mosul yet,"" he scoffs. "The terrorists think they own Mosul.""

Oliver doesn’t think it’s fair to be so hard on the leaders: "I think some of them are good men," he ventures. "I understand the anger here.""

Attacks in Mosul have plummeted since Iraqi forces launched a major operation in May. But that’s small consolation for the friends and family of a murdered sheik.

"They (Mosul leaders) haven’t brought anything to us," Farahat concludes. "All they bring is problems and problems."

The coffee and tea disappear, but the hurt remains. Farahat continues railing on the Mosul government for several more minutes. All of the visitors listen patiently and sympathetically. At last, Al Jabouri bows his head, closes his eyes and offers up a quiet prayer for Hamash, as is tradition.

The visitors then gather their belongings and leave their hosts for another home a few minutes away. Coffee will be served there as well, for this other home also belonged to a sheik.

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